What is foam rolling, and when should you do it?

Most people nowadays know what a foam roller is, or at least have seen one. They have been a staple in training gyms for well over a decade now, and the benefits are no secret. The problem is, there is a lot of misinformation on when the best time to use them is. Let me preface this by saying that there is almost never a bad time to foam roll (unless you have an injury, or have been advised to not use one by a doctor) however, there are optimal times in which you will get the most out of foam rolling. There are three times that most people foam roll, and I am going to discuss the pros and cons of all of them in this article.

What is Foam Rolling?

Lets first start off by breaking down what foam rolling really is. Most people think that it is essentially a self-massage that breaks up knots and sore muscles. In fact, this is exactly something that I have been telling people for years. However, that is not what it is doing at all. The action of foam rolling a stressed muscle sends a signal to the brain to trigger the muscle to relax. That is why the amount of pressure that is put on the muscle is important. It may feel a little sore or uncomfortable, but if there is actual pain associated with foam rolling you are going to want to stop. Foam rolling with too high of intensity will trigger the brain to have the opposite desired effect and will cause the muscle to contract and tighten up.

When is the best time to Foam Roll?

  1. Before a workout.
  2. After a workout.
  3. On rest days.

Before a workout:

Before engaging in an activity that requires you to move well (weightlifting, biking, swimming, running, etc.), foam rolling will help your muscles warm-up. Taking time before a workout to properly foam roll will relax any tense muscles, and bring blood flow to the muscles that you will be using while you workout. If you combine foam rolling with stretching, and a proper dynamic warmup, your body will be well prepared to tackle any workout. Muscles tend to become “short” and “tight” when not in use, so not warming them up properly could lead to possible injuries.

After a workout:

When you workout, your body produces waste products from your muscles being stressed. Normally, your body flushes these waste products during normal use. However, during exercise, there is a build-up of the waste products, which in turn leads to muscle soreness. Foam rolling after a workout can reduce muscle soreness, by pushing out some of the accumulated waste products, bringing in nutrient and oxygen-rich blood. This will help speed up the recovery process and lessen the amount of soreness you feel. Foam rolling after a workout also helps those “shortened” and “tight” muscles to become a little less short, and a little less tight.

On rest days:

On days that you don’t exercise, foam rolling is a great way to help your body recover. Pushing out any built-up waste products in your muscles, and improving nutrient and oxygen-rich blood flow to your muscles will help get you ready for the next workout. It will also help make you become more flexible, which in turn will allow you to get more out of your workouts!